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Rehabilitation after a Liver Transplant

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A liver transplant is a major surgical procedure. In this operation, a diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver, which is supplied by either a living or deceased donor. Usually, this option is a last resort and only used for individuals with liver cancer or who have end-stage liver failure caused by problems such as cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease, hemochromatosis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, primary biliary cirrhosis, Wilson’s disease, biliary duct atresia, cystic fibrosis or primary sclerosing cholangitis.

It can often be difficult to attain a healthy liver, as the waiting list far exceeds the number of donors. In addition, not all liver transplants are successful. The body may reject the donated organ entirely or it may fail. Bleeding, blood clots, leaking or shrinking bile ducts or even temporary cognitive impairment are all possible complications.

When there is no other option though, a liver transplant can save a life. Studies have shown that 72 percent of patients who receive a liver transplant will survive past five years. For patients receiving a liver from a living donor, this figure is around 78 percent. If you are in this position, here is how to cope with the considerable strain and begin moving forward.

Beginning rehabilitation

It may take six months to a year before a patient begins to feel normal after a liver transplant. During this time, patients will have to take a significant amount of medication, specifically anti-rejection medication in order to keep the body from destroying the foreign organ. During this period, expect to have very regular hospital visits to monitor progress and check for any potential signs of trouble.

What diet and lifestyle changes are most helpful?

Although exercise may be difficult or even impossible for a period after the operation, it is a good idea to increase your physical activity level after you recover. For the first few weeks, stick to walking and avoid any sport that could result in injury. You will also need to eat exceptionally well to help meet your body’s increased nutritional demands during this recovery period. Some patients develop diabetes after a liver transplant, though it frequently goes away after six months. Talk to a dietitian about managing this and meeting your body’s needs.

Seeking emotional support

This is not the kind of procedure where patients are immediately able to return to their normal lives. Significant fatigue, possible side effects and mental confusion in the ensuing months make it difficult to resume a normal work schedule. To make matters worse, there is always the looming concern that something may go wrong with the new liver. To get through this period, you may wish to seek counseling services to discuss what you are going through.

References

1. Mayo Clinic: Tests and Procedures – Liver transplant. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/liver-transplant/basics/definition/prc-20014076. Accessed on May 12, 2015.

2. Barnes Jewish Hospital: After Liver Transplant. Availble from: http://www.barnesjewish.org/after-liver-transplant. Accessed on May 12, 2015.

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